Carmenère is a grape variety native to Bordeaux, France where it is commonly used as a blending agent. The grape is unofficially known as the sixth grape of Bordeaux (behind Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec). It takes its name from the French word, carmin (crimson), referring to the foliage during harvest season in the autumn.
In small amounts, the grape adds a fruity and lush character to the resulting wines. Some growers have found it difficult to cultivate as it is prone to rot and mold given average rainfall conditions.
It also grows prominently in parts of northern Italy as well as in Chile, where the drier conditions are more suitable for Carmenère’s ripening process. In the early 1990s in many of Chile’s main winegrowing areas, enologists discovered that many of the “Merlot” vines were in fact Carmenère grapes, and in 1998 the Chilean Department of Agriculture officially recognized Carmenère as its own variety. The grape is also cultivated in parts of Washington and California in the United States, Victoria in Australia, and New Zealand.
When used on its own, Carmenère tends to produce full-bodied wines with notes of blueberry, strawberry, and other bright table fruits with a soft, elegant tannin structure. Carmenère has proven itself a reliable wine and is worth more tasting and analysis in the future.